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Edited and Published by Robert W. McDowell

May 5, 2022 Issue
PART 6 (May 4, 2022)

A FREE Weekly E-mail Newsletter Covering Theater, Dance, Music, and Film in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill/Carrboro Area of North Carolina Since April 2001.

PART 6A: TRIANGLE THEATER REVIEW BY SUSIE POTTER

My Fair Lady Puts a New, Much-Needed Spin on a Classic


Kevin Pariseau (left), Laird Mackintosh, and Shereen Ahmed star as Colonel Pickering, Professor Henry Higgins, and
Eliza Doolittle in the Lincoln Center Theater production of Lerner & Loewe's My Fair Lady (photo © by Joan Marcus)

My Fair Lady is a story that has been told in countless ways. It began its long life as George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play Pygmalion, which was then adapted into a 1938 British film. Later, the two were combined into the beloved 1956 Broadway musical. The Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) version of My Fair Lady, onstage through Sunday, May 8th, has its own mixed origins. It's Lincoln Center Theater's production of Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics) and Frederick Loewe's (music) work. And, all things considered, it's the best possible version for modern audiences.

The story opens, as it always does, on the bustling streets of Edwardian London, brought to beautiful life by Michael Yeargan's set design. There, the indomitable Eliza Doolittle, portrayed at the opening-night performance by Nicole Ferguson, is selling flowers and speaking in Cockney. But, unbeknownst to her, her life is about to change.

She attracts the attention of Professor Henry Higgins (Laird Mackintosh), a linguist who is appalled by her lack of what he deems "proper" speech. Later, when she seeks elocution lessons from him, she finds herself the source of an ugly bet between Higgins and his friend and fellow linguist, Colonel Pickering (Kevin Pariseau). Higgins' goal is to make Eliza passable as a "real lady."


Laird Mackintosh and Shereen Ahmed star as Professor Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady (photo © by Joan Marcus)

Of course, modern viewers can see the problems right from the start. But, to be fair to the original, Higgins is not intended to be likable, and this production never pretends that he is. In fact, Laird Mackintosh unabashedly portrays Higgins as the misogynistic snob he is, one who is utterly undeserving of any affection or loyalty from Eliza. Similarly, Bartlett Sher's direction emphasizes the classism and sexism that run rampant in the script and never once make excuses for them.

Still, it's hard to listen to songs like "A Hymn to Him" without bristling, and Higgins' horrid treatment of Eliza is difficult to digest. However, it is Eliza's characterization that makes the familiar story enjoyable. Nicole Ferguson plays Eliza as tough, wise, and charming. It also doesn't hurt that she has a killer voice and can effortlessly slip between accents. Kevin Pariseau's kindhearted portrayal of Pickering also helps lighten the mood, and Sam Simahk is perfect as Freddy Eynsford-Hill, the young man who has become besotted with Eliza. His delivery of "On the Street Where You Live" is one of the show's most delightful moments.


My Fair Lady at DPAC stars Sam Simahk as Freddy Eynsford-Hill (photo © by Joan Marcus)

Also, Eliza's costumes, designed by Catherine Zuber, are to die for. Everything from her simple green dress to her sparkling gown evoke a different era. Zuber also makes use of big hats and other bold fashions, adding a lovely visual element. And, speaking of aesthetics, Yeargan's revolving set is incredible. Higgins' study is all polished wood and pristine views, and, as the set turns, viewers are treated to glimpses of other parts of the home, including the impressive exterior. Like the set, the musical numbers are larger than life and well-complemented by Christopher Gattelli's jolly choreography.

Producing a classic musical for the modern age is no easy feat. Yet, this production manages to pull it off and make it palatable. Bartlett Sher's risk-taking ending is commendable and allows contemporary viewers to walk away feeling enlightened, instead of sad. Indeed, it turns Eliza into the hero George Bernard Shaw intended her to be, the hero she's been all along.


The Durham Performing Arts Center's May 3-8 presentation of the national tour of the Lincoln Center Theater's 2018-19 production
of Lerner & Loewe's My Fair Lady stars (center, from left) Sam Simahk as Freddy Eynsford-Hill (in top hat), Shereen Ahmed as
Eliza Doolittle, Kevin Pariseau as Colonel Pickering, and Leslie Alexander as Mrs. Higgins (photo © by Joan Marcus)

Lincoln Center Theater production of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's MY FAIR LADY (In Person at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 1 and 7 p.m. Sunday, May 4-8), based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play Pygmalion, directed by Bartlett Sher, choreographed by Christopher Gattelli, and presented as part of Truist Broadway at DPAC, and starring Shereen Ahmed as Eliza Doolittle, Laird Mackintosh as Professor Henry Higgins, Leslie Alexander as Mrs. Higgins, Adam Grupper as Alfred P. Doolittle, Martin Fisher as Alfred P. Doolittle, Kevin Pariseau as Colonel Pickering, Gayton Scott as Mrs. Pearce, and Sam Simahk as Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Durham Performing Arts Center in Durham). TRAILERS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=foWFp8X-0NA. 2021-22 TRUIST BROADWAY AT DPAC SEASON: https://www.dpacnc.com/truist-broadway/season/2021-2022-truist-broadway-at-dpac. THE PRESENTER/VENUE: https://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://www.instagram.com/DPACNC/, https://twitter.com/DPAC, and https://www.youtube.com/user/DPACLive. DIRECTIONS: https://www.dpacnc.com/plan-your-visit/directions. PARKING: https://www.dpacnc.com/plan-your-visit/parking. DPAC COVID-19 REQUIREMENTS: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/vaccination-and-covid-19-test-requirements. THE TOUR: https://www.myfairladyontour.com/, https://www.ibdb.com/tour-production/my-fair-lady-522677, https://facebook.com/MyFairLadyBway, https://www.instagram.com/MyFairLadyBway/, https://twitter.com/MyFairLadyBway, and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCalXDsRNjKgUyaDzzKKy49g. TOUR CAST (scroll down): https://www.myfairladyontour.com/. TOUR CREATIVE TEAM (scroll down): https://www.myfairladyontour.com/. THE SHOW: https://www.mtishows.com/my-fair-lady-0, https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/my-fair-lady-6369, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Fair_Lady. THE SCRIPT (excerpts): https://books.google.com/books. NOTE 1: There will be an open-captioned performance at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 5th. NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show's 8 p.m. Saturday, May 7th, performance. TICKETS: $35 and up, plus taxes and fees. Call 800-982-2787 or click here to buy tickets. GROUPS (10+ tickets): 919-680-2787, Groups@DPACnc.com, and https://www.dpacnc.com/events/groups-services. INFORMATION: 919-680-2787 or CustomerService@DPACnc.com. Nancy Rich's Review.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh's Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. She is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read more of Susie Potter's writings, click http://www.triangleartsreview.com/, http://www.susiepotter.com, and http://www.myspace.com/susiepotter.

 


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